Ross Noble: Unrealtime tour

Note: This review is from 2003

Review by Steve Bennett

Freewheeling his way into the West End for that 'difficult second run', Ross Noble brings with him an enviable reputation as Britain's most creative comedian.

Years of relentless gigging, and the occasional Radio 4 appearance, have steadily built him a sizeable fan base; and one which will not be disappointed by his return to London. Whether he wins any new admirers, though, is yet to be seen.

The way he nebulously weaves surreal material around expansive, spontaneous imaginings sparked by the slightest of audience reactions remains truly astonishing. Yet once you come to know him, as most comedy fans surely have, you can never return to that revelatory moment of awestruck amazement at the discovery of such a unique talent.

And for someone so prolific, the hugely animated Noble also doesn't seem to be growing much as a comedian; an inevitable side-effect of mastering his peculiar brand of improvised lunacy, but also the source of an unflattering familiarity.

At 26, he's discarded more classic routines than most comics could hope ever to write, each with the life expectancy of a mayfly. It provides each show with an invigoratingly fresh feel, but also means he cannot consistently assault the funnybone in the same way as a comic who spends months, even years, honing down their best material.

That's not to say there aren't moments in Unrealtime when Noble really soars. Often it's when he flirts with poor taste, mimicking the disabilities of David Blunkett or Stephen Hawking, or when he touches on topical issues like sexed-up dossiers. And anyone who casts out phrases like 'rudimentary nibble plinth' in his everyday conversation has to have funnybones.

But too often he overextends himself, not knowing quite when to bring his flights of fantasy back down to earth - and almost all of them hit turbulence along the way.

Whatever his reputation, Noble's laughs don't so much come from the trademarked surreal ramblings than his reaction to his own material. He'll often catch himself being too ridiculous, pause to toss out a self-deprecating quip about his weirdness, then toss his scruffily luxuriant hair behind his ears and move onto the next tangent. That's his equivalent of a punchline - and it's a trick that works unfailingly.

It's not the only piece of comedic sleight of hand that's starting to show, as he's starting to overuse the same devices to get out of comedy cul-de-sacs of his own making. Favourite standbys include callbacks to previous gags - an initially amusing but overegged routine about the 'jauntiness' of sailors proves very reliable - or suddenly breaking his rhythm to leap into a conversation with a new audience member. For such a flighty show, there's plenty of structure.

Not that structure comes naturally to Noble's attention-deficient brain, that giant pop culture Boggle machine in which hundreds of fragments of information, gleaned from everything from the Discovery channel to kids' TV, are shaken around until some order emerges from the chaos.

Seeing that mind at work remains a unique joy, if only for the splendidly stupid imagery he calls to mind - from air-conditioned donkeys and ghost pornography to inventive ways of smuggling asylum-seekers into the country, ideas inspired by audience members who turned out to work for the Refugee Council.

It's not all surreal rants, though; Noble can also create sharp one-liners, as he ably demonstrates on a couple of all-too infrequent occasions, and his ridiculous, hyperactive mimes show more than a touch of talent for physical comedy.

And even if this particular show didn't always reach the dizzying highs we know Noble can achieve, he still commands an audience's attention for more than two hours, and there are few comedians who could claim that.

Steve Bennett
London
September 3, 2003

Review date: 1 Jan 2003
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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